Lake Natron is located in the African Rift Valley at about 600 meters above sea level, near the Kenya border. It is a remote place, 7 hours of car far from Arusha and about 11 hours from Serengeti. Starting from the Klein’s Gate in Serengeti, just before reaching the lake, it is possible to admire the cone of the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, the sacred “Mountain of God” for the Masai population.
The name of the lake derives from the natron, the hydrated sodium carbonate erupted by the nearby volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai, which makes the waters of the lake similar to ammonia, with an extremely basic pH (between 9 and 10.5), while the temperature can reach very high values (up to 60° C).
During the dry season, the water evaporates and the salinity rate increases considerably, causing a spectacular proliferation of microorganisms, such as cyanobacteria, which contain a pigment that is responsible for the dark red color of the lake. The color tends to orange in the less deep points and has visible white stripes due to salt.
Lake Natron: the kingdom of pink flamingos
The extreme conditions due to the salinity and the temperature of the waters make the lake inhospitable to animals, with the exception of pink flamingos that come here for the reproduction during the dry season (precisely between August and October). There are more than 2 million of these beautiful animals during these months.
The Disney documentary The crimson wing was shot on the banks of the lake.
The lake that petrifies animals
Natron was used in the past in embalming operations for its disitratanti properties. The waters of the lake do not have petrifying effects on living organisms, but simply on the carcasses of animals which, getting into contact with the highly alkaline and salt water, do not decompose and become similar to statues.
This phenomenon has been catched by photographer Nick Brandt in his spectactular shots.
Activities and excursions
In Lake Natron you will not spend the day searching of animals as in the other northern tanzanian parks but, with the exception of flamingos during the dry season, you will spend a few hours walking along the lake (we suggest at dawn, when the sunrise creates spectacular plays of lights and colors with the lake waters).
The more adventurous can reach the Engare Sero waterfalls by climbing a stream that flows through a narrow canyon; under the falls there is also the opportunity to swim.
Trekking lovers can try climbing the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano. The climb is demanding and takes 10-11 hours (6hrs for the ascent and about 4hrs for the descent). It starts at night and reaches the top of the volcano at around 2,800 meters; then with sunrise the descent begin towards the lake.